Sensory Impairments in Austria

Out of the 8, 441, 872 Austrians, about 8,600 are totally blind, 13,200 are almost blind, 400,000 are hearing-impaired, and 28,300 people are speech-impeded.

This 450, 100 persons with disabilities (PWDs), though, cannot just fit in Austria “because of a dearth of communication facilities.”

Visual impairment is the impairment of the sense of sight. Speech disorder is characterized by stuttering and lisps, while hearing impairment is a hearing loss that prevents a person from totally receiving sounds through the ear.

Vision could be strengthened through the use of software programs that can read text on a computer screen with a speech synthesizer. This is the screen reader, which is the interface between the computer’s operating system, its applications, and the user. The user just has to press different combinations of keys on the computer keyboard to instruct the speech synthesizer what to say. It could also allow users to locate text displayed in a certain color, read pre-designated parts of the screen on demand, read highlighted text, identify the active choice in a menu, use the spell checker in a word processor, and read the cells of a spreadsheet.

Screen readers are currently available for use with personal computers running Linux, Windows, Mac, IOS, and Android. They can be for free or cost as much as $1,200. Each, however, incorporates a different command structure, and most support a variety of speech synthesizers.

Aside from screen readers, there is also the screen magnification system, which—just like a magnifying glass—enlarges text and graphics on a computer screen; video magnifier or closed-circuit television system (CCTV), which does the same thing as the screen magnification system but under a camera; optical character recognition (OCR) software, which transforms print into alternative formats; and Braille printers, which embosses through the use of solenoids that control embossing pins.

Speech, on the other hand, could be reinforced by an array of computer software packages such as the First Words, which is a program that uses graphic presentations combined with synthesized speech to teach high-frequency nouns. The website Enabling Devices also contains a list (with illustrations!) of innovative assistive technology for speech-impaired or non-verbal individuals.

Hearing could be improved, too, with the MotionSavvy UNI, “the world’s first two-way communication software for the deaf” that can translate American Sign Language (ASL) into speech, and speech into text. There’s also the Solar Ear, designed with the 360 million people with a disabling hearing loss that live in low- to- middle-income countries in mind.

Solar Ear is a solar-powered hearing aid battery that lasts for two to three years. It also costs a fraction of what traditional batteries cost. Another device, ISEEWHATYOUSAY, can capture spoken language on a smartphone, converts it into text, and sends the text via Bluetooth to a remote user’s device.

“A person who is severely impaired never knows his hidden sources of strength until he is treated like a normal human being and encouraged to shape his own life.” ~Hellen Keller

Video taken from the YouTube Channel of Jonathan Cowper

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